“Co-Workers or Living Factories? Biotechnology and the Concept of Animal Labour”
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Kenneth Fish, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.
Will Kymlicka, Canada Research Chair in Philosophy, Queen’s University.
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In 2000 Nexia Biotechnologies of Montreal introduced its first BELE® goats, Peter and Webster. Genetically engineered with the DNA of an orb weaver spider, Peter and Webster would sire whole herds of spider-goats whose ‘silky milk’ could be processed into BioSteel® for use in everything from sporting equipment to bullet-proof vests. The goats became the new faces of a fledgling animal biotechnology industry whose potential to position transgenic animals as instruments of production seemed to confirm the greatest hopes and fears surrounding genetic engineering. Peter and Webster made headlines in Canada and abroad, and even found their way into Margaret Atwood’s dystopian science fiction novel Oryx and Crake. But perhaps these spider-goats and their transgenic kin, rather than instruments of production, might better be viewed as workers? The concept of animal labour has become popular in critical animal studies and is intended to grasp the role of non-humans in the production process in a way that avoids regarding them as passive objects of human manipulation. The example of transgenic animals highlights the analytical and political limitations of the concept of animal labour and presents an alternative rooted in Marx’s theorization of the labour process. I will argue that conceptualizing animals as ‘living factories’ better captures their role in the production process and raises a more fruitful set of questions concerning their alienation and the kinds of social transformations that might assist in their liberation.